DOTD needs to answer questions about I-49 connector before asking them
Claire Taylor, firstname.lastname@example.org 12:48 p.m. CST January 26, 2016
(Photo: Claire Taylor, Daily Advertiser)
I-49 meeting reminder 5:30 p.m. today:
The I-49 connector CSS community work group meets at 5:30 p.m. today at the main Lafayette public library downtown. The public may attend but is not allowed to ask questions.
The meeting is scheduled for the same time as the Lafayette City-Parish Council meeting, which is interesting since several council members, Mayor-President Joel Robideaux and a few of his staff are on the CSS community work group.
A couple of community work group members said they advised the meeting’s organizers of the conflict, but the meeting still was scheduled for the same time as the council meeting.
I’ve attended just about every meeting I was aware of in the past two or three months on the Interstate 49 Lafayette connector project, including two Sierra Club meetings and the four-hour workshop Saturday sponsored by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
The workshop was to get public input into the project. Those heading up the event stressed they were there to listen. The problem is, many of the regular people who attended wanted answers. And they didn’t get them.
Toby Picard, DOTD’s project manager, told me they’ve added about five months to the 18-month process in order to do more in-depth listening and get more public input into shaping what the 5.5-mile connector will look like. That’s great.
But I personally believe Saturday’s workshop came too soon. The DOTD and its consultants need to listen to the public’s questions and provide some answers first.
You may have heard about the CSS — Context Sensitive Solutions — process that’s being used to develop the connector. It includes three committees, one of them a community working group comprised of local representatives of area organizations and neighborhoods who are supposed to help keep their people informed.
The public can attend those meetings, but can’t ask questions. The only meetings I’ve been to in this process where the average person could ask questions have been the two Sierra Club meetings attended by Picard and a couple of DOTD representatives.
The Sierra Club host a grassroots meeting to addressBuy Photo
The Sierra Club host a grassroots meeting to address issues regarding the proposed 5.5-mile section of Interstate 49 connector from Kaliste Saloom Road to I-10. Jan 21, 2016. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE, THE ADVERTISER)
At Saturday’s workshop, in three of the four sessions I sat in on, people had questions that didn’t get answered in large part because time was limited. The sessions were set at 30 minutes each, three of them seeking feedback. That meant a 15-minute presentation and 15 minutes for the feedback exercise. No time for questions.
The final session of the day was the worst of all. Everyone was seated in a gymnasium with large movie screens on either side toward the front of the room. They were briefly shown four photos then asked to rate the appeal or lack thereof of each, either using paper and pen or on their smart phones. For instance four types of lights for the interstate. But one side of the room couldn’t see the photos well.
There was the time limit, again, forcing people to rush through the process. Again, questions were ignored, leaving one to wonder did people really know what they were voting on? I didn’t. They showed a photo of public art that looked like a large balloon art dog. Did we vote on public art in general or that particular dog statue? I don’t know. They wouldn’t say. When I left, feeling frustrated, I realized none of my smart phone votes via text message went through anyway.
In my opinion, that exercise was a massive fail.
If the DOTD and its consultants really want to engage the public, they first should hold a questions and answer event. Assemble everyone with DOTD who is involved in the project, people with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality who can address environmental concerns such as the pollution at the old rail yard and protection of the Chicot Aquifer (the city’s drinking water supply), the project consultants from Stantec and AECOM and anybody else that can answer questions.
Then open the mic, let concerned residents and business owners ask questions, and provide answers, as best they can, right then and there. Have maps and overhead projectors on hand, maybe even photographs of the area.
Or maybe more intimate individual question and answer sessions would help. Assemble DOTD, DEQ and consultants in separate rooms like Saturday’s workshop and let individuals visit one on one, asking questions, reviewing maps of the route and such. People who will be affected by this thing, and even those who won’t be directly affected, want and need answers.
Participant’s in Saturday’s workshop voted on whetherBuy Photo
Participant’s in Saturday’s workshop voted on whether they prefer a crawfish claw-inspired support or accordion-style support for the bridge. (Photo: Claire Taylor, Daily Advertiser)
Only after having questions and concerns addressed should the DOTD ask the public if they would prefer concrete pylons supporting the bridge to resemble a crawfish claw (no, please!) or an accordion, or whether the “signature bridge” should be supported with cables or feature towers or arches, or if they want playground equipment or bike and walking trails under the elevated bridge.
These consultants are getting paid millions of dollars for this phase of the project. They can do better. Lafayette deserves better.
There are more important, vital questions that need to be answered first for this community and for individuals who live and work along the proposed route. The next such workshop will come this summer. That gives DOTD and its consultants plenty of time to answer the public’s questions and perhaps allay some of the fears that are growing about the I-49 connector.
Like I-49 or not, the DOTD wants your input